Thursday, July 11, 2013
My parents were literally babes in the Woods where organising their finances were concerned--for though Daddy enjoyed an extremely healthy Salary both had no inkling of how to invest money profitably.We three sisters always got the best in everything and since those days the idea was that "Money corrupts" they kept us safely away from it.Besides if we had everything that we needed handed to us on a plate--what the Hell did we actually need Pocket Money for??? We literally would save up for almost an entire year to scrape up enough money to buy both of them Books on their Birthdays and their Anniversary for both were voracious readers.
Those days we had no T.V. only the Radio would be our companion---conking off due to lack of Electricity during Load Shedding hours.Hence Books became my firm friends---how I loved to read without a break--literally devouring the Books up in my perch on the "Neem" Tree much to the irritation of both--Mummy and Amma, my Nanny.Mummy despaired that I was too tomboyish--Amma screeched about each and every scrape mark I gathered!!However since my sister Mikki was born a Blue Baby and hence was a sickly child---she helped to keep both of them off my back for most of the time.When I think of those days I am truly thankful to The Almighty for having given me an exceptionally beautiful childhood--carefree,innocent and replete with Nature!!I have been blessed with so many beautiful moments that all I need to do to snap back from unpleasant thoughts is to think about the Pictures of my childhood--the vividity and clarity with which they flood back is really astonishing.
Daddy's younger sister,Kusum Atya too had shifted to Chandigarh with her family---her husband Sharad Kaka and daughters Meera and Vaija. Meera was 2 years older than me and Vaija just 9 months my senior---and as a result the three of us would get to spend plenty of time together.They were much smarter than me in every way---as they had lived in various places including New Delhi thanks to their father's job.I was perhaps for the first time forced to acknowledge that I was the "Country Bumpkin" compared to them and I'll honestly admit that realisation was extremely off putting and unpleasant!!However soon the "Culture Shock" wore off and I settled back into my comfortable provencial cocoon once more.However we shared a Blood bond and that gradually actually introduced us to each other properly.
As we spent more time together the outer veneer of Sophistication slowly wore away and the 3 of us began bonding in the true sense of the word.Daddy loved having people over--and his darling sister was always welcome as were her family.It is the Summer Vacations that we all spent together that have created some great Memories.
Meera and Vaija would have stay overs at our home and then we'd three of us huddle in my Bedroom.I'm sure that my eyes must have turned into saucers when they narrated their escapades from their Boarding School days in Waverley School in Mussoorie. Having been raised on a steady dose of Enid Blyton books I fell hook,line and sinker for their stories--realising pretty late in Life about how expertly they had strung me around!!We shared books by Chiro and would attempt reading each other's palms to foretell the Future--however I drew the line at both Planchett or similar activity because while Ghosts do not scare me I still have a healthy respect for them--and I would rather let the sleeping dogs lie!!The best part was swapping Ghost Stories and getting goose bumps---for each tried to out do the others.Imagine the atmosphere---a dark Moonless night,the Wind sighing in the Trees of the Garden and the Mountains looming darkly eerie and sprinkled with suspended Lights on their slopes in the distance.Thanks to all this nocturnal activity the days would be spent snoring away much to Mummy's irritation.
Movies for us were very few and far in between.The problem was the same as with Pocket Money--these too corrupted our young minds so we were allowed to see only Movies with Religious themes.Thanks to this the Nuns held specially censored versions of movies like "The Ten Commandments","Ben Hur" and " Quo Vadis" in which all immoral activity had been carefully removed!!Of course we also saw Marlon Brando's version of "Julius Ceasar" based on Shakespeare's Play since Shakespeare was a very huge part of our Syllabus.Amma would gain permission to take us to the Movies named "Sampurna Ramayana" or "Mahasati Anasuya" because distance between the protagonists was maintained.These Movies and others like these meant that she and her counterparts who chaperoned us would also carry along Coconuts,Garlands and fresh Flowers and the Images would freeze on the screen to allow such devotees to pay their respects to all the Dieties that appeared on the scene!!Amma also would insist on taking us to the local "Ram Leela" that was held at almost every street corner.That was something that I loved----the flickering Gas Lamps casting fascinating shadows,boys playing the female roles and flashing loads of Gilt and glitter and a beloved story that everyone knew by heart---it would still recreate spell binding Magic to hold all enthralled during those October nights!!However I hated crowds but would still be dragged by Amma willy nilly to the finale--the burning of Ravana at the Parade Ground.Here she'd with great conviction and piety offer her Coconut,Garlands and Flowers to Ram,Sita and Laxman--insisting that I touch their feet and obtain their Blessings.What turned me off was the stink of stale Hooch,the strong Beedies they'd smoke and unwashed body odour that emanated from them but Amma would be be impervious to all this and adamant so finally I'd have to comply!!
I sometimes still long for the carefree innocence we enjoyed--never needing more than what we had and as long as our Parents were there to protect us God was in His Heaven and all was right with our World!!
Wednesday, July 10, 2013
Writing about Mummy reminded me of Daddy---a veritable scamp!!He was like a little boy despite his position and age--always clowning around,playing pranks and generally livening up the atmosphere at home!!However he was a workaholic too---and because of that we missed out on his company during our---actually my, growing up years.As a child Daddy took me everywhere with him--Trekking into the Hills or Walks to the neighbouring Farms, both he and Jeanneret Uncle took me along---and a lot of my Knowledge is sourced from these Treks and Walks.However the speed of getting Chandigarh completed picked up and these occasions became few and far in between for around a period of 5-6 years till finally in January 1965 I reconnected with Daddy once more!!
Daddy had enjoyed Britain while studying Architecture at Christ Church College in Oxford---he loved the Food and the people there and it was there that he learnt to relish Beef and Pork to such an extent.It is his stories of huge Breakfasts at the Farms where he spent his Summers---all mouthwatering accounts of crisp,thick Bacon Rashers,Oxford Sausages,Kippers and Eggs served sunny side up that would literally make us drool--not forgetting the Sunday Roasts and Yorkshire Puddings!!The first thing I did on reaching London was to eat a plate of Roast Beef and Yorkshire Pudding the day I reached the City!!After finishing his Studies and working there for a year he and his friend returned home via the post War Continent--and accounts of their travels there would literally have us in splits and hooting with laughter!!Though he very much loved Paris, he also loved the French countryside and his French was fluent enough to get by.On his travels both Ramesh Uncle and he stayed in picturesque little Pensiones and here learnt to survive on and cook a thick, tasty "Potage"--a bit like the old Fairy tale of the Soup Stone that he'd tell me as a toddler.Daddy's Potage too was made of as many Vegetables as one could find,Meat Bones,Onions,Potatoes,Aromatic Spices and would cook the entire day atop the Coal fires in Winters.In the evenings the Cook would strain it out and after removing the Bones pass the rest through a medium sized Sieve.It would then be seasoned with a little warm Milk ,Butter, Salt and Pepper and served in huge Brown Ceramic Bowls--coloured a glazed Brown on the outside and a deep Ivory on the inside.We had our Bowls and he had his--twice the size of ours!!After the Potage there would be Cheese Souffle before proceeding to the Pudding but what I remember most is the delicious Bread that we ate with the Potage--thick,crusty and home made!!
Daddy loved to make Wine as well.We had a profusion of Grape Vines growing on a Wire Lattice--gifted to us by Le Corbusier who had got the cuttings all the way from France!!The Lattice covered the entire roof of our huge Garage and this was one our favourite corners of our home--the thickly leaved Green arbour was the coolest spot to be in at the height of Summer!!.Each year Daddy would get Mummy to sew little Muslin Bags to cover the heavy bunches of Grapes that made our mouths water---we could eat even those unripe Grapes without a qualm!!He would then personally tie these bags over the Bunches with various types of knots that he knew.However he would forget that he taught all 3 of us to tie the self same secure knots too---so all we had to do was stealthily climb down on the Garage Roof,pick the ripening Grapes and polish them off speedily,retie the knots exactly the way they had been and scamper back to the Terrace and thence to our Bedrooms---looking like sweet little angelic girls!!Despite our best efforts quite a number of these Bunches survived--and these bunches would turn into delicious,Garnet coloured Wine.The Bunches would be gathered,the huge Tub brought out,Daddy would be in his swimming Trunks with his feet and ours well washed and clean--and the threshing would begin to the strains of all four of us lustily yelling out the song "Alloutte"!!There would be a great time for all jumping about till finally no Grapes remained uncrushed? actually totally pulverized!!The mixing with the other Ingredients and the period of Fermentation and later bottling and labelling the ready stuff was not part of our Agenda--but the final decanting and tasting of the Wine at Christmas very much was!!
For me, my childhood always has a very strong overlay of certain aspects that characterised that period of my Life---the deliciously smoky flavour of Twigs and Dry Leaves burning in the Twilight,the beautiful smoothness of Daddy's Wine on my tongue---the Coal Stoves cooking the delicious wholesome Food that we ate---it all somehow had a much better taste ,texture, aroma and flavour then!!All things were natural and organic and though the Manure stank we never wrinkled our noses at it---for it too was an intrinsic part of our surroundings.Even today I love to enjoy the Sunrises and Sunsets---I call it "my" time---for to me they speak of a Wonder and Magic our children and grandchildren are losing sight of in their mad rush to to fulfill their Goals in Life.I wish they'd take the time to stop and smell the Roses sometimes!!
Tuesday, July 09, 2013
For the last 10 days I've been trying to manage my Health Issues---namely the Stomach Bug!!The one single thing that I actually do not like about The Monsoons is the Water problems.While we usually carry our own Water to most places, sometimes a lapse does occur--and then begins a hellish time---of feverish Indigestion!!Roughly 15 days back I began my Pickling--for thanks to my immobility earlier due to Osteoarthritis and Physiotherapy I had fallen behind because frankly the Heat and the activity would really tire me out--draining me of all Energy and the Will to actually accomplish the Tasks I had set myself.One of these is making both the Green Mango Spicy Pickle,the sweet,sour and spicy Pickle as well as the much loved Saffron scented sweet Preserves.Since childhood the Art of pickling has fascinated me.I remember both my Grandmas making their own Pickles--enough to last an entire year after distributing the surplus.The very precision required to do this had me completely bemused.In my early childhood Mummy'd recieve huge Parcels in June---a whole Variety of Pickles,Preserves and home made Condiments like Papads would be sent by Aaji,my maternal Grandma from Bombay and later Poona where my Aazoba built his Bungalow after his retirement.
I first saw Aaji making Pickles on a Vacation to Poona.She had a huge Tree shaded Yard or "Aangan" just outside the Kitchen door where she and her domestic help worked tirelessly---I watched fascinated--turning into a nuisance with my constant questions about anything and everything.While this would amuse and make her "Bais" laugh for these questions would be in Hindi--Aaji would be very hard pressed to reply since she spoke only broken Hindi--and would get frustrated at not finding the right words--and would then in desperation finally revert to her native Marathi--which created further questions because I understood her answers in part only!!Observing the annual rituals and the process though was fascinating.The drying of a huge supply of the yearly stock of various Grains,Pulses, Tamarind Pods,Spices in various proportions for making the entire year's supply of Spice Powders,Pickling Spices as well as drying the huge numbers of freshly rolled out Papads, Udid Dal Saandgeys , Mung Dal Vadies and boiled Rice or Potato Phenies for the religious period of 4 months called the "Chaatur Maas"--- when even Onion or Garlic was completely taboo!! Also being sunned for days were the huge Ceramic Jars for storing the Spices and Pickles in the huge " Kothichi Kholi" as the Larder was called.The most fascinating was the Pickling.The cleaning and cutting of the rock hard Green Mangoes and the subsequent smoking of the Sun cured Ceramic Jars was something I still do.The Ceramic Jars would washed out after being vigorously scrubbed clean 2-3 times.The mouths would then be tied with thin Muslin Cloths and these would be left to dry in the scorching hot Summer Sun every day till these were bone dry.Then tiny "Sigriees" or small Coal based fires would be lit--and sprinkled with Asafoetida. These Jars would be placed face down on these "Sigriees" and smoked for three days till thoroughly smoked and then capped and kept ready to receive their yearly stock of Goodies.For me those Parcels carrying all those Goodies sent by Aaji were like Ali Baba's Cave--I'd dance around impatiently while Daddy pried apart the Wooden Boards serving as Lids wanting say "Khul Jaa Sim Sim" !!
However a random comment by one of our envious neighbours about Mummy being lucky to have such an industrious and genorous mother sparked the need in Mummy to "show" the neighbour that if not better,she was at least as good as her mother---and Pickling became the order of the day!!Here I got my first taste of it--and promptly fell in love with the technique of doing it!!Despite her Ego, Mummy still needed Aaji's guidance--and didn't hesitate to ask for and instantly get it. Aaji wrote out step by step instructions of how to make the Pickling Spices or Masalas and various proportions needed for it .That was not all--she carefully measured and parcelled all the Spices like the coarse ground Mustard and Fenugreek Seeds and the special variety of Red Chilli Powder and even sized small rocks of Asafoetida needed for the process. The firm and rock hard Green Mangoes would need to be soaked in cold Water for a few hours to get the sticky sap and dirt off ,then wiped squeaky clean with a soft cloth---ensuring that no moisture was left behind.It was a hive of activity after that--Daddy sitting there with a clean old sheet spread around him cracking open the Green Mangoes with a Green Mango cutter--specially structured to cut through the firm Seed inside.The three of us clustered around---picking up the pieces of Mango,tempering this with a little Salt and Red Chilli Powder and then tucking into the tangy and spicy sourness---our teeth and palates reacting sharply to the taste!!
Mummy was busy with first measuring out then roasting the measured Spices slowly on a dry griddle to attain the perfect smoked crispness,then when cooled to room temprature getting the Cook to pound these out to a Powder before mixing this Powder with the measures of Spices sent by Aaji. The required amount of Oil would be boiled,allowed to cool a little and then seasoned with the Seasoning Spices before being left to cool to room temprature too.Then with some ceremony the assembling would begin--the huge Brass Cauldrons would be filled about three fourths of their capacity with the Fruit.One by One the Turmeric,Red Chilli Powder,Salt and the Pickling Spices would be added to it and then thoroughly mixed,tasted for Salt,covered with Lids and set aside.Finally the cooled Oil would be poured into these Pots,mixed well and set covered overnight for everything to gel together and mix well.Well the first Pickles were a treat----and Mummy being Mummy she needed the satisfaction of doing everything on her own to satisfy her Ego!!So there began a spate of Pickles---the North Indian variety that she made according to a Recipe she borrowed from one of our other neighbours--and many more.Gradually she honed her skills to such a degree that her Pickles were extremely sought after by all our friends in Chandigarh.
Today I live in Mumbai--a plus point in getting hold of all the authentic,traditional Ingredients I need locally.Yet I love to go through the paces of making my own Spice Powders instead of buying the ready made ones for the various Pickles--both Maharashtrian and North Indian,Sudhir loved this--he loved to eat the very basic and simple Meals on Rainy or cool Winter Sunday nights at times---consisting of a simple Dal,steamed Rice,Pickles and Papads--add just a drizzle of home made Ghee to the Dal and Rice--and Heaven is just a touch away!!Today though Sudhir is not there I still would like to continue with this--for though I myself rarely eat Pickles the enthusiastic response I get from those I gift it to truly warms the very cockles of my heart!!
Thursday, June 27, 2013
My Monsoon this year is tinged with Sadness---I'm missing Sudhir far more than I realised I would---it is like a huge vacuum in my heart,my soul and my life!!Added to this is the devastating calamity that has torn my beloved Mountains asunder and caused such enormous damage to people and property!!The loss of property can be recouped and recovered but the loss of Life is beyond belief---I know that Death is the biggest Truth of Life but to die this way??The gruesome and horrifying Pictures in the Papers and the T.V. are chilling and terrifying.For the last 2 days I've not opened a Newspaper and not switched on the T.V.---too painful to watch or see!!
Looking at this Disaster takes me back to 7th. May 1987--for that was the day we started our Pilgrimage from the holy town of Haridwar. Those days Uttarakhand was still a part of of it's parent State Uttar Pradesh.Our journey would begin at the crack of Dawn everyday and we'd bathe shivering in the Mountain chill before seating ourselves in the 27 seater Bus.Sudhir had chosen the last seats for us in the back of the Bus--as my mother too was with us---and bought 5 blankets in the market at Haridwar to keep us warm.As I loved looking out dreamily at my beloved Mountains I chose the seat facing the Gorge while Sudhir sat between our daughters.What the bumpy road did to our poor butts bouncing away merrily on the spongy seat I will not elaborate on but each night the biggest comfort was of snuggling down under the thick quilts in our rooms completely tuckered out and exhausted!!
The roads back then were extremely narrow---barely wide enough for all the 4 wheels to stay just inside the outer edges of these--but the sights were spectacular---steep Gorges and stark Slopes--the Sunrises and Sunsets gilding these with liquid Gold at the beginning and end of each day.All of us were friends and family and therefore well known to each other. The time spent in travelling in the Bus would used by all of us to tell Stories and Jokes--some of the most lame poor Jokes too elicited a response--we were caught in a bind with no option but to listen to these as there was no way we could avoid them!!The most amusing part however was the chanting of certain "Mantras" mainly those connected to Lord Vishnu--actually a Recital of His 1000 names called the "Vishnu Sahasra Naama".The cadences of these would rise and fall according to the position of the Bus on the edge of the Roads--if there a few inches of the road to spare the recital would be melliflously melodious--if there were no inches to spare on the edge the Recital would rise to a shrill crescendo in controlled panic of the fear of pitching over into the Gorge.We were lucky--such mishaps were common during these Pilgrimages but we completed ours--and lived to tell the Tale!!
The first stop was the origin of the River Yamuna at Yamunotri. We all hired "Tattoos" or the hardy Mountain Ponies to carry us up the steep slope to the Temple and set off.As we ascended up the Path we realised that it was barely about 18" wide at it's widest area and while proceeding ahead in a single file was not too difficult it was however scary whenever we encountered Folks returning from the Temple after paying their respects to the River Goddess.Each person wanted to cling to the safety of the Mountainside rather than take the risk of passing each other on the deep drop of the Gorge.This would lead to a very delicate and slow manoeuvre from all concerned--it would have definitely been hilarious if we'd all not been scared out our wits!! One sight I will never,ever forget is the serpentine flow of the Yamuna--turning into a thin Black thread as we climbed higher.It was truly mind blowing to see the White Marble Pebbles at the bottom of the Riverbed glistening with Mica each time the truant Sun Rays played hide and seek with these but the very clear and transparent Water flowing over these was as Black as the Night!! As it we ascended we were sent light Showers of Rain---making the seats on the Ponies slippery--and all of us women wearing Saries certainly didn't help!!Trying to keep both our Modesty and Dignity intact is ver difficult if the Saries are getting hitched over the saddles and an immodest length of leg is showing!!Luckily we'd bought Thermals at Haridwar which both Mummy and I wore under our Saries--so it wasn't that embarassing for us!!
Finally after trotting on for about 6-7 hours we reached the Temple only to get caught in a heavy downpour---which gave us a very short while there as our Guide insisted on climbing down to the Rest House about an hour's journey down the slope for the night.The Path by now had turned into a slushy,slippery mess and we were drenched to the skin by the time we reached the Rest House--but after reviving hot water baths and hot Tea spiced with Ginger and a few Herbs we recovered sufficiently to sit in the Verandah,watching the Rain, nursing our Glasses of Tea before wolfing down thick,crisp "Aaloo Parathas" supplied by the Cook for our Teatime Snacks.No one counted how many each of us ate--till we were regretfully informed by the Staff that the Kitchen had to be shut down till the next consignment arrived in the late evening!!However by Dinnertime we were all satiated and stuffed thanks to our greediness earlier and decided to Breakfast heartily next morning instead.
The night at Janaki Chatti was magical---the Rain having stopped a while earlier,the Moon rose high in the clear night Sky--picking out the Evergreens and gilding their edges with a glimmery,shimmery Silver.Up on the Mountain facing us tiny lights softly twinkled winked like Golden Stars---reflecting the windows of the small "Dharamshala" near the Temple. A soft whispering Breeze blew through the Trees ruffling the branches and creating a hushing sound as it passed. The crystal clear Air was scented by the intoxicating mix of the tiny Wildflowers that had bloomed during the day and the Evergreens mixed with the smoky accents of Incense and Wood smoke. Both the Girls and Mummy had gone to bed but Sudhir and I lingered on in the Verandah--inhaling deep breaths of this incredible Atmosphere--trying to absorb as much of it as we could--trying to satiate our very souls and our entire conciousness with it for we knew it was a once in a Lifetime experience for us!!
The narrow Path at Yamunotri
The Hot Springs near the Temple.These cook Dal,Rice and Potatoes in a jiffy!!
The Temple dedicated to The Yamuna--daughter of The Sun
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